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Santa Clara Showtime: Rescuing Damsels in Distress for Four Decades

It may be hard to see what will rescue Santa Clara’s decaying International Swim Center, but there’s one Santa Clara story where the damsel in distress is always rescued. I’m speaking, of course, about Santa Clara Showtime, which puts on its 40th show the first weekend in March.

Showtime was the brainchild of the late Cleo Stuckrath; who was so well-known in Santa Clara that she, like Cher and Beyonce, only needed one name. She ran the show for 25 years, then turned it over to longtime assistants Rick Mauck and Robin Burdick. Mauck took a well-deserved retirement last year.

When Prop 13 slashed funding for community services in 1978, Cleo responded to Prop 13-driven cuts in the Senior Center’s Health and Wellness program with Showtime. An old-timey show, Showtime features a melodrama packed with local in-jokes, variety show, silent auction, raffle and plenty of refreshments. The enduring and popular show has had a longer run than “Phantom of the Opera.”

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Cleo also founded the Santa Clara Women’s League, which produces the show and other projects to support Santa Clara Senior Center health and wellness programs.

This year, Showtime presents “Penelope of Pruneyard Patch,” Cleo’s first melodrama. She wrote the melodrama— as she did every year — on an IBM Selectric typewriter. Mauck took over as playwright in 2007.

“Penelope of Pruneyard Patch,” tells the story of the dastardly Hector Hatefulheart’s scheme to cheat the honest-but-poor Penningtons out of the family homestead after Pa Pennington “fell out of a pear tree and hit his head on a bucket” (practice saying this).

Before Hatefulheart succeeds in his iniquitous intentions — which include the virginal kisses of Penelope Pennington — the handsome and heroic Christopher Crabtree saves the day, and all ends happily.

This year’s director is Robin Burdick; ably assisted by Janae Cubeiro and Catherine Dietrich, who jumped into the breach when illness took Burdick out of action for several weeks.

Burdick, a longtime city employee, goes back to the beginning with Showtime.

“I was in the audience for the first one,” she recalled. “I don’t think it was even called Showtime then. It was 1982 or 1983.

“It was at Agnews Auditorium,” she continued, “and every seat was filled. Gretchen Stuckrath played Penelope Pennington and Craig Sala was Christopher Crabtree. It was so much fun — a real crack-up.”

Burdick made her Showtime debut the next year.

“I’ve been in it ever since,” said Burdick. “In my first role, I was a barmaid. One year I was the heroine, but I found I really liked the character roles. You can cut up in those roles.

“One year, my character was supposed to cry,” Burdick continued, “and I really wailed. Cleo liked it so much that she had me cry every year after that.”

Like everyone else, Burdick admired Cleo’s energy and her gift for understanding people.

“If you just happened to be talking to her and you struck a certain chord, she would invite you to be in Showtime,” said Burdick. “She was a Pied Piper. She could get anyone to be in Showtime.”

The curtain rises for “Penelope of Pruneyard Patch” on Saturday, March 2, 2024 at 7 p.m. and Sunday, March 3, 2024 at 2 p.m. at the Community Recreation Center, 969 Kiely Blvd. Santa Clara.

Doors open an hour before curtain time. Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for children and there’s a $25 family package for 2 adults and 2 children. You can buy tickets at SantaClaraWomensLeague.org or at the door.

Note: This photo is from the last production of “Penelope of Pruneyard Patch” in 2012.

In the interest of full disclosure: I’ve been in Showtime since 2006 and freely confess to my bias in favor of this delightful, old-fashioned community event. I feel honored being part of the show.

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2 Comments
  1. WANDA BUCK 2 months ago
    Reply

    Wonderful article by Carolyn, and much appreciated! However the dates are wrong,.
    Showtime, is March 2 &3 instead. Perhaps publishing the Showtime flyer will help.

    • Angie 2 months ago
      Reply

      Hi Wanda,
      Thank you for catching that. We will update the story with the correct dates.

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